The interior is a big improvement, with simpler switchgear and a central infotainment screen (6.5in as standard, 8.0in for Titanium and ST-Line models, both with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay) mounted at eye-level. The Ecosport isn't entirely free of the hard, scratchy plastics that blighted its predecessor, though. The seats are softer, more supportive and slightly perched, giving good visibility. A leather steering wheel is standard. Overall, it’s a good start.
The Ecoboost engines are expectedly likeable, too, and although our preference would be for the more powerful variant, the 124bhp version is fit for purpose, even if its 0-62mph time of 12.7sec does seem slow.
The six-speed auto 'box is characterised by perhaps the smallest shift paddles in existence, mounted on the wheel. If you’re merely pottering, the 'box tends to upshift smoothly enough at just beyond 3000rpm, but if you call for a downshift to execute an overtake, there’s often a frustrating pause before the lower ratio is engaged. The issue here is that the three-cylinder engine, while willing enough to rev out, isn’t particularly torque-rich, and so this scenario is a frequent occurrence. The six-speed manual not only remedies this lag but serves up more involvement, making it the better bet.
Now, the chassis. There’s no doubt that Ford’s alterations have improved matters, but the long and short of it is that the Ecosport trails the class-leaders, such as the Seat Arona, by a fair margin when it comes to ride and handling.
Canter along smooth roads with little in the way of direction changes and there’s little to criticise here, apart from an ever-so-slight fidgetiness. Indeed, hook the gearbox into sixth and the car takes well to motorway duties, wind noise from the thin-framed wing mirrors notwithstanding.
However, on smaller, more corrugated roads, the Ecosport crashes over ruts and through compressions, with the suspension then requiring a second bite at the cherry to get the car's tall body back under control. The ride quality also lacks finesse low speeds – town driving, in other words – which is tough to forgive in a supermini-SUV.
Lateral roll is adequately contained, which we couldn’t say for the previous Ecosport, but those hoping for an elevated Fiesta – and with it, you’d imagine, a new dynamic benchmark in the supermini-SUV segment – will be disappointed.
That said, two areas in which the Ecosport is true to Blue Oval type is in its steering, which is nicely weighted, consistent, accurate and surprisingly feelsome, and its brakes, whose level of assistance seems just about right for this kind of car. These make the Ecosport pleasant enough to drive until you’re going quickly enough for the chassis’ issues to surface.
Another first for the Ecosport is the availability of sporty ST-Line trim, which Ford reckons will take 35% of sales. This adds sports suspension, more belligerent bodywork, plenty of dark trim and a few luxuries inside and costs £800 more than the mid-ranking Titanium trim. But while the sports suspension improves matters, it doesn’t raise the chassis out of its inherently soggy state.